Man of the Year
PROFESSOR SYED MUHAMMAD NAQUIB AL-ATTAS
Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas has been an intellectual giant of the Muslim world for over six decades. He is particularly noted for his pioneering work in the Islamization of knowledge. His philosophy and methodology of education have always been centred on one goal: to Islamicize the mind, body, and soul, and to have that affect all aspects of life, including all spiritual, intellectual, physical and emotional matters. He explains the Islamization of Knowledge, or science, as the liberation of man from magic, animism, and mythology on the one hand, and from the godless shackles of secularism on the other. Such liberation results in the freedom of man and his soul to be his true Muslim self, at peace with nature, the environment, and modernity, and capable of rejecting any negative innovation or modern idea that comes his way.
His rich knowledge and rare understanding are fruits of an equally rich and rare upbringing. He was born in 1931 in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, to a scholarly father with Yemeni roots–hailing from the Ba Alawi family in Hadramaut-–and to an aristocratic mother, also with Hadrami roots, from the Sundanese aristocracy in West Java. Thus, he descends from a long line of scholars from the lineage of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) through Imam Hussein, and from the noble aristocracy of his mother.
He received his early education between two countries: first, he learned the traditional Islamic sciences in the town of his birth, Bogor, in Indonesia; and, second, he learned language, literature, and Malay culture in Johor, Malaysia, a city where his aristocratic Turkish grandmother, Ruqayah Hanum, had once been queen. In 1946, he entered the Malay-British Army and trained at Sandhurst. In 1957, he left his military career and began his academic life. He studied at the University of Malaya, then earned a Master’s degree in Islamic Theology and Metaphysics from McGill University, Canada, and finally a PhD in Islamic Philosophy from SOAS, London. From 1965, he lectured at the University of Malay and was made Professor of Malay Language and Literature. In 1970, he went on to teach at the National University of Malaysia.
During the next few decades, Dr Attas received many awards and honours, including: Commander of the Order of Loyalty to the Crown of Malaysia and membership in the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Academy of Jordan. He is the author of 27 books on subjects including Islamic philosophy, theology, Sufism, Malay literature, history, poetry, metaphysics, civilization, and education. He was responsible for the conceptualization of the Islamic University, which he introduced in the First World Conference on Muslim Education, Makkah (1979). In 1987, he founded the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), an organization for graduate studies.
Dr Attas is a philosopher and an academic skilled in many fields, not just those pertaining to philosophy, literature, and history, but also to calligraphy, architecture, and design. His calligraphy designs were exhibited at the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. Additionally, as a designer and architect, he designed, in Andalusian style, the buildings and grounds of ISTAC.
At the age of 92, Dr Attas is still active and recently published his latest book, Islam: The Covenants Fulfilled (2023).
Woman of the Year
DR EDNA ADAN ISMAIL
Dr Edna Adan Ismail is a Somali trailblazer who has spent her lifetime improving the lives of people in her region. A nurse and mid-wife, she has been a tireless healthcare advocate for women, opening a non-profit charity hospital and a private university bearing her name. She has also served in at least two different ministerial posts for Somaliland’s government. She has empowered many women to dream and achieve more.
Dr Ismail was born in 1937 in Hargeisa, then in British Somaliland. The territory became the independent state of Somaliland for 5 days in 1960 before uniting into Somalia. Since 1991, it has considered itself once again independent, but the international community recognises it as an autonomous region within Somalia.
Dr Ismail was born to a prominent Somali doctor. Her father would hire teachers to teach the local boys. Since, at the time, education for women was still unheard of, Dr Ismail learned the basics of reading and writing from the boys’ teachers. She later went on to attend school in Djibouti. Dr Ismail had an early personal experience of female genital mutilation (FGM) which was arranged by the female members of her family. Upon finding out, her father was furious and the experience made her determined to prevent this from happening to others. After graduating, Dr Ismail won a scholarship and trained as a nurse and midwife in London.
Once qualified, she returned to Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, and amidst disruptions caused by the Somali Civil War in 1981, she set out to establish the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital, which eventually opened officially in 2002. The country was still lacking in medical professionals, and Dr Ismail set about personally training nurses and midwives from scratch. From almost zero qualified staff and the meagre facilities of 20 years ago, the hospital now boasts well over 200 staff and 1,500 students. The facilities now include operating theatres and laboratories. Her ambition did not stop there: she went on the establish the Edna Adan University which focuses on medicine and business, where she remains the university’s president.
Outside the world of medicine, she has also had success in government. She was the first female Foreign Minister of Somaliland, from 2003-2006. She also served as Somaliland’s Minister of Family Welfare and Social Development. She is no stranger to politics or government, since her husband, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, served as Prime Minister, and then President, of Somaliland in the 1960s and again from 1993-2002. Dr Ismail is now President of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, and is also President of the Organization for Victims of Torture.
Dr Ismail is the recipient of many awards and has been inducted into the Medical Mission Hall of Fame, University of Toledo, Ohio. She has also been awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Clark University, Massachusetts. She is an Honourary Fellow of Cardiff University and was granted an honorary fellowship by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. She was also awarded an honourary doctorate from London Southbank University. In 2023, she was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize.
Nurse, midwife, courageous activist, and pioneer in eliminating FGM; minister and one-time First Lady, Dr Ismail has achieved remarkable success in several fields. She credits the beginning of this distinguished life to the damage done to her and her determination to eradicate such injustice for the sake of all women. Finally, beyond Dr Ismail’s trail of great successes, her character is a woman of exemplary character and humanity.